travel

Seattle - Part 2

Well, dearest readers, I have way more visual content than I have time to post it or write about it. It's a good thing. Life is happening and I alternate between making it happen and holding on as it does.

Studio time does not currently exist. What does exist is the urban sketching during trips and building department visits, and figure drawing sessions once in a while. Live-in-the-moment kind of things. 

And so, more of Seattle today. This, for example, is the sketch I made at the Starbucks Reserve Roastery. Beautiful place, even if I don't care for coffee that much. 

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Then there was the Chihuly museum and garden. I didn't know about David Chihuly until my Seattle native coworker enlightened me. What a place! 

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I spent some time sketching in the chapel.

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...And during lunch at the adjacent cafe with a Steve Jobs-lookalike server and accordions hanging from the ceiling:

The sketch...

The sketch...

...and the photo

...and the photo

This last sketch was at the end of the last day, when we finally made it back to the waterfront and the ferris wheel:

Among other things, I visited the enviable studio of Alicia Tormey, an encaustics artist I've been following for years. I left with a tiny little painting that I basically begged and whined for her to sell to me. 

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And, of course, the Space Needle, which was going through a major remodel (bonus points in my case, as I love seeing things getting built) 

There you go. A very concise version of a great trip. I'd love to go back soon - maybe it will even rain for me a little? :)

Ukraine trip part 3 - Lviv

Lviv, Lwow, Lvov, Leopolis. The coolest city in Ukraine, no contest. It is the cultural capital of Ukraine, due to its breathtaking architecture, healthy emphasis on the arts, delicious food and adoration of all things Ukrainian. In a country with a history of conflicted identity, Lviv is proud to be Ukrainian.

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I sketched and painted Lviv a few times (not enough!)...The experimental Yupo piece above was part of a 20x20 show at a Sacramento gallery.

Coming back to Lviv was wonderful...We caught the perfect weather and, although very short, our visit felt like a rich experience.

We came by train, from Khmelnitskiy. It's only a couple of hours' ride and I took the opportunity to introduce my husband to the standard travel choice of most Ukrainians - "platzkart", or 2nd class. This is basically an open train compartment, with two lower bunks, two upper bunks and one more lower and upper across the aisle. Your feet stick out into the aisle. 

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Another super traditional thing about this train ride - the mandatory hot tea in a glass with metal holder. Apparently, these things have been around since the late 18th century.

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They are, of course, also highly sketchable :)

Once we got to Lviv, we had an airbnb place waiting for us. A loft in a tower, at the end of four or five stories of a spiral staircase. 

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And the best thing about it? The view...

The view onto the city in the morning.

The view onto the city in the morning.

The view at night...

The view at night...

The view inside the 17th century Bernardine church seen in the previous photo.

The view inside the 17th century Bernardine church seen in the previous photo.

..And the view into the inner courtyard.

..And the view into the inner courtyard.

We stayed close to the apartment - which is in the old town - which is where I wanted to be anyway. There's the Rynok square, the main tourist hangout with the city hall and the bell tower in the middle. The square is surrounded by something like fifty historical buildings, each unique but playing nicely with its quirky neighbors.

Among the new places, I got to visit the House of Legends - a multistory restaurant / museum of local urban legends. We dined on the rooftop and I scored a goal, shooting a coin into the chimney sweep's hat (this is supposed to bring you tons of luck).

The Chimney Sweep monument.

The Chimney Sweep monument.

Another stop was the Fedorov square, which his the location of a long-standing book flea market. I was limited by the size of my luggage, exchanged money on hand and also a little bit of common sense - otherwise, I would have bought a lot of paper. And vinyl.

Here, I am holding the first issue of my favorite childhood magazine. Mr Ivan Fedorov, the first printer of a text in Church Slavonic, is looking over approvingly from the distance.

Here, I am holding the first issue of my favorite childhood magazine. Mr Ivan Fedorov, the first printer of a text in Church Slavonic, is looking over approvingly from the distance.

Also, I painted this guy before - in my Unity series.

Also, I painted this guy before - in my Unity series.

And this place - St Olga's Cathedral - is my favorite painting out of the series. I waved at it as we were passing by.

And this place - St Olga's Cathedral - is my favorite painting out of the series. I waved at it as we were passing by.

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We missed the festival of street music by a week or so but, this being Lviv, music happened on the street anyway. We just kind of wandered into this Ukrainian girls choir performance at the Rynok square.

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This is just a very small, curated collection of images I brought home with me. I love the photo above, taken from the top of the House of Legends. I didn't think of it at the time, but this East-West pointing wind compass illustrates the historical predicament of my home country. Stuck between Russia and Poland, Ukraine has been a favorite site of many wars between the East and the West.

Ukrainians are not belligerent people. More like, conflict-avoidant - it takes a lot to tick us off. Which, I guess, attracts all sorts of conquerors thinking we're an easy win. It is really a mistake on their part...historically, Ukraine grew all kinds of rebels and militias in response to the bullying neighbors. 

At the same time, the Ukrainian national identity has also been a site of conflict, particularly after its independence in 1991: do we associate more with the former soviet countries and their mentality or do we jump head first into the Western culture? 

Anyway...I enjoyed the trip thoroughly. Hopefully, a longer stay next time. So much to see, so many things to sketch!

Highlights of my trip to Ukraine - Part 2

I grew up in a small city of Khmelnitsky in Western Ukraine. There isn't much that's exciting about it - it's a regional center, it has a river running through it and its main industry is shopping. Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1990s, jobs were scarce and local money quickly lost their value. The economy was in ruins. So a lot of people tried to make ends meet by reselling things, often brought in from a neighboring country. It was not uncommon to see a former white collar worker peddling Turkish bed linen or Polish shoes. Several marketplaces sprung up around the city and one of them grew to enormous proportions. This is now the 'tolkuchka' or 'tucha' - third largest marketplace in Europe (the nicknames refer to how crowded and cramped it gets and how you get pushed around when you're shopping). 

There are, of course, good things in Khmelnitskyy, like this little art gallery we wandered into.

There are, of course, good things in Khmelnitskyy, like this little art gallery we wandered into.

Symphonic rock at a Ukrainian music venue.

Symphonic rock at a Ukrainian music venue.

There is a concert hall. A friend took us to a symphonic rock concert there. The music was okay, but sitting in the second row from the stage and watching the action with a sketchbook in my hand was fantastic.

So that's a little bit about my town. Let's say I was not sad to leave when I moved away to architecture school in Odessa (which is all the way on the other side of the country). But there is one thing this place has that I can't find anywhere else.

Enter Lara. Psychology professor, artist, writer, the most constant thing in my life (other than, arguably, my parents). My best friend. 

Lara in her kitchen. She bravely sat for me, while also talking up a storm :)

Lara in her kitchen. She bravely sat for me, while also talking up a storm :)

We met at the art school. She was 13, I was 12, and four hours a day three days a week we were together. We share love for art, creativity, humor and reading. She is way better at understanding the mysteries of human interaction. I am better at...math? She likes cats, I'm a dog person. She likes pastels, I am into watercolor. 

Where it all began: me with my friend Larisa, aka Lara, next to the building of our art school.

Where it all began: me with my friend Larisa, aka Lara, next to the building of our art school.

Lara is one of the main reasons I wanted to go back to Ukraine. We kept in touch through the 13 years I've been gone - good ol' snail mail at first, emails which she could only read at her university library computer, endless iterations of messengers and social networks. I would call her with a long distance call card and promise I would definitely come. Next year. 

And then I wouldn't keep that promise because transatlantic travel is expensive and children are little. 

So this time was surreal for both of us. I couldn't believe I did it, she couldn't believe I was really there, breathing the same air. It was amazing. We both worried that somehow, through distance and time apart, we became different people and those people would not connect. But we did connect - it was as if we only saw each other last week. 

Good friends like this are a treasure - I hope you have one, too. And if you don't, find one and build that relationship. It really can be something that sustains you and holds your head above the water when times are tough. Also, it's extra nice having a shrink for your best friend ;). Highly recommended for you creative types. 

Highlights of my trip to Ukraine - Part 1

This October will mark 14 years since my family and I crossed the ocean for the first time and moved to the United States. It is not an easy thing to leave a life you built and start again, from scratch, in the unknown. And the older I get, the more respect and awe I feel for the immigrants who risk everything in hopes of a better life for their children. It's a big deal.

The beautiful roof structure of the San Francisco International airport.

The beautiful roof structure of the San Francisco International airport.

I was not happy to leave Ukraine and move who-knows-where when I was 22. It made no sense to me, and it was scary and it was stressful. I kept on a brave face but I felt like I was kidnapped and brought to this foreign country against my will. I was not forced into anything, of course, but at that point in my life, I just didn't know I had other options.

So, for the last 13 years, I've wanted to return. The significance and meaning of this return morphed over the years into something mystical. A pilgrimage. A return of the Jedi. A prodigal daughter homecoming.

And then, this May, I did it. My husband tagged along and I'm sure if was very different for him. For me, it was surreal. After such a long time, you begin to wonder if everything you knew from the life before even exists.

We flew out of San Francisco and into Istanbul, with a long layover there and then an early morning flight to Kiev. A similar arrangement on the way back - except, we had a few more hours of daylight to go glance at the Blue Mosque and the outside of Hagia Sophia. I did not have the time to sketch any of that. But during the first layover, I sketched a funky chandelier made out of a car tire and some rope. That's something, right? :)

A funky chandelier at a Turkish restaurant

A funky chandelier at a Turkish restaurant

On the whole, I expected to sketch so much more than I actually did. The trip was 10 days from leaving our house to arriving back to it, with a day and a half spent just on sitting in an airplane. Sure, you can also sketch while on the plane. And I did. Once:

Nunavut - Canadian Arctic Archipelago, apparently.

Nunavut - Canadian Arctic Archipelago, apparently.

This looked like Greenland to me...but it turns out, it's a Canadian territory by the name of Nunavut. Live and learn!

Sketching at Istanbul airport. I made the drawing on the plane and then applied water to it on the ground (Drawing made with water-soluble LePen).

Sketching at Istanbul airport. I made the drawing on the plane and then applied water to it on the ground (Drawing made with water-soluble LePen).

After Istanbul, we spent a day in Kiev and took a train to my hometown of Khmelnitskyy. I stayed with my best friend...this was also so strange and so wonderful. We met in art school, when I was 11 or 12 and have kept in touch ever since. She is now a psychology professor, married to another psychology professor. She kept trying to feed me. Everything. At once. Apparently, Ukrainian love is expressed with food!

Maidan, the main square of Kiev.

Maidan, the main square of Kiev.

Ah, and the food. I have never been big on household tasks, including cooking, so I visit my mom if I feel the craving for some yummy Eastern European food. But having unrestricted access to cherry strudels and potato pancakes and Ukrainian cheesecake was amazing. 

Strudels and tea at Lvivski Plyatski in Khmelnitskyy.

Strudels and tea at Lvivski Plyatski in Khmelnitskyy.

One of the little cafes we visited in Ukraine was also a language club. Which is kind of a perfect combination of uses - study the irregular verbs all you like, while sipping coffee or a special "healthy smoothie" and nibbling on a "zapekanka" - Ukrainian cheesecake. Or strudel. More strudels in my life, please :D

Cafe Ola - a cafe and a language club.

Cafe Ola - a cafe and a language club.

Some people, undoubtedly discussing important linguistic matters while I sketched them. 

Some people, undoubtedly discussing important linguistic matters while I sketched them.